Brave banners are wind-dashed and mud-stained,
and hat plumes hang sodden. She does not feel the
sleet, only the iron of her convictions. They are clad
in sashes like knights marching into battle; their
embroidered armor bearing the strident statements
of equality. Insolent women, refusing to be chattel.
Courtly gentlemen spit at the women to whom they
once bowed. Insolent women in classrooms, on picket
lines, in settlement houses, handcuffed to iron gates.
Their decorous upbringing has not taught them the
etiquette of rebellion: true gentility is remaining stoic
in the face of brutality. Defying convention, they have
forfeited the protection of their husbands and society.
Names are scratched into the cinderblock walls above
a soiled, bedbug-ridden mattress only slightly softer
than the cold concrete floor. White-gloved women twist
nervous handkerchiefs. Their fear tastes cold, metallic —
like water in a tin prison cup. Metallic sounds punctuate
anxious silence: the warden’s keys ring with every step,
like a pocketful of coins. The rhythm of his boot heels
drums the length of the halls. The price of freedom is fear.
The cell slams shut with a clang, a reverberating sound.
Their days are measured in stitches.
The rhythm of push, seam, snip
is their metronome, their timepiece.
Seven days a week they see neither sunrise nor sunset,
only a packet of needles and a basket of fabric scraps.
The sweatshop is a heated hell
of locked doors with melting knobs.
The shriek of steel reverberates
as the fire escape buckles
beneath the weight of panicked workers.
Shards of glass burst from the windowpanes
in the fierce heat.
A star of David at a girl’s throat
has been burnt into the skin,
leaving the flesh branded
in a last attempt to reach God.
In the rubble lay pieces of the lives of the dead:
a stray glove, bits of scorched and broken wood,
a handkerchief, burnt to powder
but for the embroidered initials;
a monogram with which to identify the body,
and a rosary whose prayers went unanswered.
Watch dials gleam like abalone
with a phosphorescent glare.
Tongues flick over paintbrushes like lollipops.
Every flash of tongue delivers a steady dose;
the poison fills the veins like chlorophyll,
illuminating in the bloodstream
with a night-light’s eerie glow.
Fingernails glint like blue-green algae
from the poisonous manicure,
transforming the expendable immigrants
into starlets with shimmering eyelids,
luminous mermaids and sparkling butterflies.
Strands of blood mix with the froth
of saliva and tooth powder,
vividly red against shining porcelain;
Bleeding gums stain pristine handkerchiefs
edged with lace or monograms.
Teeth crumble into plaster
bearing the bitter-breath smell of rotting bone.
Bones rendered glassy and brittle
crumble like sand with every stride,
the broken fragments colored the green-white of mold.
The truth is starkly lit, a golden shadow
silhouetted against the paper’s gloss.
Watch faces resembling miniature moons
are time bombs ticking a death knell.
Jessica Goody was born and raised on Long Island. She currently resides in South Carolina, where she writes for SunSations Magazine and The Bluffton Sun. Her work has also appeared in numerous publications and anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Broad!, Spectrum, Barking Sycamores, HeART, Gravel, PrimalZine, Kaleidoscope, Open Minds Quarterly, and Wordgathering. Her poem “Stockings” was awarded second place in the 2015 Reader’s Digest Poetry Competition.
Photo courtesy of Rawane Khalil.